Discerning Good from Evil

Romans 16:17-19 – I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

Take Heed Lest You Fall

These are some of Paul’s last words to the Church at Rome. With these words he revealed his Christian love and pastor’s heart for this congregation. After a significant, deep, and vital treatise on Christian doctrine and living, Paul stressed one last time how crucial it was for these Christians to take heed to what he shared with them.

Paul knew there were those wolves in sheep’s clothing (Acts 20) who would creep in among God’s people (from within and without) and cause divisions – some purposefully and others because they themselves had been deceived. Regardless, these wolves would place obstacles before God’s people. They would seek to undo and disrupt sound teaching, the very doctrine Paul took pains to communicate throughout his Letter to the Romans.

Deception, Then Derailment

Paul said to keep away from such trouble-makers. Don’t hang around them. No good can come from getting too close to them. Such people do not represent our Lord, regardless of how smooth their words are. They serve the idol of their own agenda, their own desires and cravings, not Christ’s. The first result of listening to them is deception. Once deception sets in, wandering from the faith is never far behind.

Paul loved the Church at Rome. Because he cared for them he therefore encouraged them and built them up by complimenting their obedience. But he warned them to be wise with regard to what is good and innocent concerning evil. Sticking your head in the sand won’t do here. The discernment Paul spoke of required learning and growing in the sound doctrine he had been teaching them throughout his letter. Their lives and souls were at stake, as well as future generations of Roman Christians. The same is true for you, your children, church, and friends if you wander from the sound, life-giving, life-transforming doctrine of God’s Word.

Walking Points

  • I encourage you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Pray for the Spirit’s discernment regarding good and evil. Flee from evil and those who bring it, regardless of whether or not the world calls you judgmental. Cling to what is good and thank God for it.
  • Read through Paul’s Letter to the Romans with some friends and discuss what each chapter teaches you about truth and falsehood, good and evil.
  • How are your observations relevant to today’s world, and your life in particular? Write down those principles and your observations.

Prayer

All-wise Father, your Word presents to us, from beginning to end, commands and encouragement to take the right path and warnings against taking the wrong one. We are to believe in you and no other. We are to follow you and your Word and nothing else. We are to take the hard and narrow road and not the wide and easy one. Every page of Scripture beckons us to trust you and follow the map you have set before us. Please forgive me for those times when I, as did Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, stray from the path, even a little. Thank you for your abundant grace which shows me my error and your Spirit who enables me to get back on the right path and continue my journey with you. Please help me to serve as a guide for others who are traveling through this world, seemingly unaware of the map and other road signs you have provided. Furthermore, help me lead and protect from false teachers and prophets, those you have entrusted to my care. For it is in the name of the Good Shepherd I pray. Amen.

Fellowship of the Burning Heart

Does your heart burn for God? Long for God? Do you long to know him better, to love him more fully, to follow him more faithfully, to trust him more completely? Do you deeply desire to live a God-centered life in which God is glorified and reflected in your daily thinking, speaking, and doing? If so, you already belong to the Fellowship of the Burning Heart.

Of course, no one, save the Lord Jesus Christ, can say that they fully desire any of those things, much less have arrived. The Apostle Paul himself didn’t presume to have arrived but knew he must continue to press toward the goal of such communion with God and conformity to the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Yet even the desire to desire God in such a way is a good thing.

There are some who have gone before us who have hungered and thirsted for God, (as well as for his Kingdom and righteousness), and they have shared a bit about their journey with those of us who would follow them down that path. That’s what these occasional posts, under “Burning Heart” will focus on. They will share snippets – bits and pieces – from those of the fellowship who’ve finished their pilgrimage to the Celestial City and now rest from their labor. What they have left behind for the rest of us is encouragement and wisdom to help us travel the same road. More importantly, they have exalted the King of that road and call upon us to do likewise.

This small effort will be nothing more than sharing brief devotional quotations and insights of the folks who have blessed me along my own journey. I’m quite certain ten different people could come up with ten completely differently lists. Those on my list may not all be your cup of tea, yet I do hope that you will find a little gold in the gravel. But if that is the case, then please find your own fellowship of the burning heart who can help encourage you and build you up for our journey.

To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.” A.W. Tozer

We all desire that far green country. Let’s walk the path of those who have successfully gone before us and left a trail of breadcrumbs behind them.

The Hope of Real Repentance

2 Chronicles 7:14 – …if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Good News, Bad News

The Lord was pleased with the Temple Solomon had completed. God said he would take up residence there to receive worship and sacrifices. Then something a little strange happened, at least from our perspective. In a vision, God spoke sobering words to Solomon by telling him that, should God decide to shut up the heavens to prevent rain from falling, or command locusts to devour the land, or even send a plague on “his own” people (v. 13), he would still show mercy to genuinely repentant hearts.

The past sins of God’s covenant people against the Holy One was no trifle to be winked at. God taking up residence in the Temple was also no excuse for disobedience and idolatry. These were great offenses. But our gracious Lord offered hope in verse 14. God declared that when these calamities (consequences for sin) befall his covenant people, there would be something they could do.

Four Steps of Repentance

First, his people were to humble themselves. There was no room for pride and self-dependence here. Instead, God’s people were to fall on their faces before God as an act of spiritual poverty and brokenness. They had neither strength nor wisdom in and of themselves. God was then, and remains now, the Source for all that and more.

They were also commanded to pray. Prayers of adoration to God, confession of sin, expressions of their helplessness, and complete dependence upon their sovereign God would be good places to start.

Next, they were to seek the face of God. Imagine that great Day when we will behold the face of God. It is that face which we are to pursue in this life. We too need to cultivate the character of God in our lives, trust him alone, follow his commands, seek his presence, and enter into intimate communion with him. 

God also said his people must turn from their wicked ways. The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse of what those wicked ways looked like: God’s people had been turning away from and forsaking God and his decrees, as well as serving other gods and worshipping them. This is wickedness in the sight of God and is why God said he might bring disaster on his own people (v. 22). God’s people were to abandon such spiritual adultery at once. That’s repentance.

Forgiveness and Healing Await

If God’s people humbled themselves, prayed, sought God’s face, and turned from their wicked ways, God promised to hear them, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

Ours is a land in desperate need of healing. Whether it’s our country, culture, local church, or family, there is much need for the healing power of God. But it will not come merely because we recognize the need. That’s a good first step, but more is required – genuine change – change that results in humbling oneself before God and clinging to him alone. Saturating ourselves in prayer, grieving over our transgressions and seeking his forgiveness and restoration is essential. Following hard after God – his will, commands, presence, and pleasure – should be our life’s pursuit. And biblical repentance is necessary – turning from our wicked ways and leaving them behind and turning in a Godward direction. Our prayers should include pleading with God to enable us to do just that.

Holy and Gracious

We want to experience God’s forgiveness and see our land healed. But change will have to first take place. Until then, we should expect the discipline of a loving Father – one who loves us too much to let us continue down a destructive path, and who, therefore, will do much to bring us back to the right one. Because he is holy, he will never overlook our transgressions.

Because he is gracious, God will continue to call us away from the gods of this age. He summons us back to obedience and submission to his Lordship. And with that comes his promise to forgive us and heal our land. Thanks be to God – the great Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.

Walking Points

·         What comes to people’s minds when they hear the word, “repentance?” What working definition do you think they use? Why?
·         Which of the four steps of repentance is hardest for you? Why do you think that is?
·         What are 2-3 ways you could make repentance a more natural part of your life?
·         What are the positive results that would happen if you more faithfully practiced biblical repentance?
·         Do you spend much time crying out to God in intercessory prayer on behalf of your family, community, church, culture, country, and world in which you live? If not, why not?
·         We cannot make other people genuinely repent, but how can our intercessory prayer still be a blessing to our land, as we beg God to heal it?
·         If you meet with other Christians, include such intercessory prayer this week. If you don’t belong to a small group, give two or three friends a call and get started. You won’t believe the difference it will make in your life. And based on our Scripture, who knows how God will answer your prayers for our world?

Prayer

Forgiving and healing God, you are holy and full of grace and you alone deserve to be worshipped. I give you praise that my sin, while detestable to you, does not prevent your continued offer of forgiveness and restoration. I ask you to never cease providing me with godly humility, so I can turn to you in complete recognition of my own sin and as well as my need for mercy and grace. Help me never believe I’m sufficient in and of myself. But more than mere recognition of my sin, I pray you will also enable me to turn away from sin and toward you in a life of joyful obedience. Give me also, O Lord, a heart that breaks for the land in which I live. Burden me with a desire to intercede for this pitiful and fallen world, knowing you long to hear such prayer and bring healing. My own rebellion and idolatry are surely representative of the wider culture in which I live. And so, dear God, I pray you will help us all see the destructive path we’re on and draw us into deeper and more intimate communion with you. In Christ’s holy and gracious name, I pray. Amen.

The Sacraments

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 25

65. Question: Since then faith alone makes us share in Christ and all His benefits, where does this faith come from?

Answer: From the Holy Spirit,[1] who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel,[2] and strengthens it by the use of the sacraments.[3]

[1] John 3:5; I Cor. 2:10-14; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29. [2] Rom. 10:17; I Pet. 1:23-25. [3] Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 10:16.

66. Question: What are the sacraments?

Answer: The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by their use He might the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel.[1] And this is the promise: that God graciously grants us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.[2]

[1] Gen. 17:11; Deut. 30:6; Rom. 4:11 [2] Matt. 26:27, 28; Acts 2:38; Heb. 10:10.

67. Question: Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus
Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

Answer: Yes, indeed. The Holy Spirit teaches us in the gospel and assures us by the sacraments that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.[1]

[1] Rom. 6:3; I Cor. 11:26; Gal. 3:27.

68. Question: How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant?

Answer: Two: holy baptism and the holy supper.[1]

[1] Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 11:23-26.

Prayer Journal: Week 25

Pray as you can, for prayer doesn’t consist of thinking a great deal, but of loving a great deal.
(Saint Teresa of Avila)

This Week’s Scripture

·         Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
·         Psalm 32
·         Romans 5:12-19
·         Matthew 4:1-11

Adoration

Psalm 32:11
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness (verse 1)
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee
.
thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

(Thomas Chisholm)

Take time now to offer God your praise and worship.

Confession

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit
 (Psalm 32:1-2)

O Lord, Deliver me from everything that keeps me from loving you fully and completely. Deliver me from the desires, ambitions, and emotions that draw me away from serving you and pleasing you in all parts of my life. Deliver me from being half-hearted in my devotion to you, in my prayers and reading of your Word, and in my service to you. Keep my desire for you and for serving you ever growing, ever burning. Amen. (John Wesley)

As David did in Psalm 139, ask the Lord to search you and know you through and through. Confess the sins God brings to mind, knowing you are forgiven and that He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Thanksgiving

Beautiful Savior, we praise you for the free gift of salvation offered to us at great cost to you. We love and adore you for our redemption, grounded in the grace of the Person and Work of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of our sinfulness, Christ’s free gift brought our justification. We praise you for the active righteousness of our Savior, your Son. We thank you that he won our salvation, not only through his death and resurrection, but also through his life of perfect obedience. Thus, by faith, his righteousness becomes our own. That’s more that we can even comprehend, and vastly more than we deserve, but we glorify you for your goodness and grace. In his holy name we pray. Amen. (based on Romans 5:15-19)

Spend some time reflecting on the prayer of thanksgiving above and then thank God for who he is and the many ways he has poured out his goodness and grace in your life.


Supplication (Petitions – prayers for yourself)

·         Give me greater love for those who are hard to love.
·         Help me to be compassionate and kind to those in need, even when it’s inconvenient.
·         Pour out upon me your courage and boldness to love those who do not know you and to share with them your Gospel, in word and deed.
·         Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
·         Other needs


Supplication (Intercession – prayers for others)

·         My family
·         My family and friends who do not have a saving relationship with Christ
·         For those in my other spheres of influence who do not know Christ
·         For evangelists around our city, country, and world who risk much in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are lost
·         Other needs

Help me today, my Lord, to discover your good, perfect, and acceptable will and to focus all of my desire and energy upon doing it. (Reuben Job)

Good Works

The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 24

62. Question: But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?

Answer: Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God,[1] whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.[2]

[1] Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10. [2] Is. 64:6.

63. Question: But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

Answer: This reward is not earned[1]; it is a gift of grace.[2]

[1] Matt. 5:12; Heb. 11:6. [2] Luke 17:10; II Tim. 4:7, 8.

64. Question: Does this teaching not make people careless and wicked?

Answer: No. It is impossible that those grafted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.[1]

[1] Matt. 7:18; Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5.

Prayer Journal: Week 24

Our prayers are only as powerful as our lives. In the long pull we pray only as well as we live. (A.W. Tozer)

This Week’s Scripture

·         Exodus 24:12-18
·         Psalm 99
·         2 Peter 1:16-21
·         Matthew 17:1-9

Adoration

Psalm 99:1-3
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (verse 1)
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near;
join me in glad adoration!

(Joachim Neander)

Take time now to offer God your praise and worship.

Confession

Lord our God, you answered them;
    you were a forgiving God to them,
    but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Exalt the Lord our God,
    and worship at his holy mountain;
    for the Lord our God is holy! (Psalm 99:8-9)

Lord, so often as we come to you, the plea in our hearts is that you do our will and not for you to show us yours. So often our hearts have been closed to your leading and we have missed so many opportunities to be blessings to others and to be blessed ourselves. Forgive us, Lord, and help us have the courage to open our hearts to you. In Christ we pray. Amen. (James R. Wilson)

As David did in Psalm 139, ask the Lord to search you and know you through and through. Confess the sins God brings to mind, knowing you are forgiven and that He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Thanksgiving

Majestic and glorious Father, we give you our thanks and praise that you did not leave us to grope blindly through this dark world but have continually given us your light. We thank you for the way you have disclosed yourself and your will to us through the prophets and apostles. We are grateful that your Spirit filled, moved, and spoke through them so that what we now have in Holy Scripture is exactly what you want us to know about you and your ways. But most especially we worship and adore you for the Light of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We thank you that his light has become our light and because of him, we can truly see you, this world, and ourselves as you intend.For it is in the name of Christ, the Light of the world, we offer this prayer. Amen. (based on 2 Peter 1:16-21)

Spend some time reflecting on the prayer of thanksgiving above and then thank God for who he is and the many ways he has poured out his goodness and grace in your life.

Supplication (Petitions – prayers for yourself)

·         Give me greater knowledge, depth of insight, and understanding of God’s Word.
·         Remind me daily of who I am in Christ. Let me be defined by who God says I am, not the world around me.
·         Guide me into greater understanding and faithfulness of God’s call in my life.
·         Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
·         Other needs

Supplication (Intercession – prayers for others)

·         My family
·         My pastor(s), church staff, and missionaries
·         Those wrestling with anger, anxiety, or the overwhelming desire to please people at all costs
·         Other needs

Gracious Lord, satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
(Daily Prayer)